Jurgensen heard about the program through a friend two years ago, and completed a series of classes that taught problem solving, teamwork, communication and English skills, and customer service. She now is a room attendant at the Ritz-Carlton, which pays more and offers benefits.
"This was the greatest opportunity that I've ever had because they helped me find a job," says Jurgensen. "From $8.50 an hour, now I'm making $19. How great is that? Right now, I'm so happy."
"This was the greatest opportunity that I've ever had because they helped me find a job." — Margarida Jurgensen
One of her daughters just graduated high school and is off to college, for which Jurgensen will help pay. Jurgensen is also enrolled in a house-buying program through the Hospitality Training Center which goes into effect two years after completion and will help her own a home in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. She is building the better life she wanted when she moved to the U.S. from Cape Verde.
"Employers need to invest in their workers so workers can invest in their families and in their communities," Downey said. "It's about the dignity of work. Hard-working people should be able to feed their families and earn a living wage."
"It's about the dignity of work. Hard-working people should be able to feed their families and earn a living wage." — Marie Downey
For five to six weeks, students participate in classes that range from computer training and specific job instruction to English, GED, and citizenship courses, with class sizes between 12 and 15 students. In some of those classes, there could be students from 10 different countries, Downey says.
The program has a placement rate of 90 percent, where students start off making $16.50 an hour with benefits. After three months, they earn over $19 an hour. BEST Corp. tracks graduates for three to five years after they leave the program, and has found that the trainees stay in those positions at a 91 percent rate.
Since the program only trains as many people as the number of hotel jobs available, it's competitive. This year, for example, students went through three rounds of interviews to fill the 90 spots that were available. Around 200 people in the last four years have completed courses. But those numbers could start growing substantially. There are 30 more hotels in the development pipeline in Boston, and nearly a dozen of those will open in the next two years.
The program was borne out of the collective bargaining agreement between the hotel industry and the hotel workers union: UNITE HERE Local 26. It was initially intended for union members only, but has expanded to unemployed and underemployed people outside the industry. For the latter, training is funded by private and public grants. Brian Lang, the union president, thinks this partnership could be a model.